Education

University of Iowa warns of possible layoffs, furloughs, pay cuts

'We must be forthright about the challenges we face'

A sign in support of University of Iowa health care workers is seen in front of the Old Capitol Museum in Iowa City on F
A sign in support of University of Iowa health care workers is seen in front of the Old Capitol Museum in Iowa City on Friday, April 3, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — As the University of Iowa continues to assess its financial blow from the coronavirus, UI President Bruce Harreld warned Monday some units could be harder hit than others and that layoffs, furloughs and pay cuts could be coming.

The campus projects losing $70 million from the pandemic through August — not including UI Health Care, which through the end of this month expects to take a $120 million COVID-19 hit, even with $30 million in federal stimulus aid.

“While federal funding will help, it is far short of what is needed to make the university whole,” Harreld’s message said. “As a result, many collegiate and central service unit leaders across the university will be forced to make difficult decisions, some of which will impact employees.”

Specifically, Harreld reported, self-sustaining units such as athletics and housing and dining “face steeper losses” and are reviewing budget and enrollment projections “to determine appropriate staffing levels.”

If “meaningful work” is unavailable, Harreld said, employees will be directed to register for a “temporary redeployment pool” and asked to accept redeployment when offered. Those employees also could be asked to take paid vacation, compensatory time or unpaid leave.

Supervisors also might consider hiring and salary freezes, pay cuts, furloughs or temporary and permanent layoffs, Harreld said.

“This news understandably will create anxiety and concern within our community, but we must be forthright about the challenges we face and the difficult decisions ahead,” he said. “When the university adopted a new budget model two years ago, the goal was to increase transparency, reward collaboration, and provide predictability and stability in the face of a generational decline in state support. The same goals apply during today’s global pandemic.”

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Iowa’s other two public universities also have warned of pay cuts and staffing changes as all three in mid-March canceled in-person classes; moved instruction online; recalled study abroad students; directed employees to work from home; closed residence halls and most dining facilities; and gave refunds to many students.

UIHC, in accounting for its COVID-19 budget impact, not only ramped up spending on protective equipment and other mitigation measures, but lost revenue from canceled elective and many scheduled surgeries.

To support UI employees who no longer could work but were facing other COVID-19-related challenges, including health issues, the campus kept all employees on a paid status through the spring semester.

“In so doing, we created several financial challenges we must now address,” Harreld said.

The UI’s relatively new budget model allows colleges and units more control of their respective budgets based on projected revenue, driven by enrollment and other factors.

“The impact from the pandemic will be different for each area, so it is important that these budget decisions be made at a local level,” according to Harreld.

The Board of Regents last week recommitted to reopening the public university campuses in the fall — including residence, dining and lecture halls; on-campus events and activities; and athletics, among other things.

Each campus has a team in place to coordinate complexities of a return amid the pandemic.

Many details of those plans — like potential changes in residence and dining halls — have yet to be announced.

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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